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Some Snohomish parents opt out of standard tests

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By Alejandro Dominguez
Herald Writer
SNOHOMISH -- Dozens of Snohomish parents are making a statement against budget cuts to education by keeping their kids from taking state exams this spring.
This group of parents, named We Support Schools Snohomish, believes the cuts should be made in what they call inefficient performance testing, instead of teacher jobs.
The tests being opted out of are the Measurements of Students Progress, known as MSP, which are given to students from third to eighth grade.
"This year class sizes increased, teachers are taking furlough days and we lost custodians," said Michelle Purcell, a parent who has three kids in the school district. Testing should be considered, too, she said. "A lot of money is being spent every year," she said.
The Snohomish School District respects the parents' decision, but declined to take a position, spokeswoman Kristin Foley said.
According to numbers provided by the state's Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, the state spends about $38.6 million on the MSP.
The cost per student starts at $30 but since students might take more than one test, depending on their grade level, the cost can reach up to $90.
The tests are given each spring. In Snohomish, the tests are given between late April and early June.
The idea of opting out of the tests was discussed by several parents after meetings with the school district staff last fall.
Nicole Von Trotha decided her kids in Little Cedars Elementary and Valley View Middle School will not take the tests.
"I have never felt testing was valid and useful," Von Trotha said. "I feel the money from the tests can be used to pay for better teachers and improve the schools."
By not taking the test, parents hope legislators get the message to consider other options while they decide on the education budget. "This was a way to be heard," said Suzanne Morgan, who plans to let her fifth-grader daughter at Seattle Hill skip the testing. "The MSP seems like a wasteful test."
The group is spreading the word through its Facebook page and it's giving information to parents interested in joining it. The group is not pushing the movement on high schools, where state tests determine whether a student graduates or schools that need them to secure state funding, Purcell said.
Cuts have affected her third-grade daughter at Seattle Hill Elementary, she said. Her class size increased to 29 students this year. The teacher has less time to spend on her daughter, who has learning issues, Purcell said.
The family had to pay for an outside tutor to help her daughter in math and reading, Purcell said.
There are parents from Little Cedars, Cathcart, one parent from Everett and another from Tacoma who have shown interest in the movement, she said.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction understands the parents' concerns, but the students need to take the test, spokesman Nathan Olson said.
"Federal law requires this testing," Olson said.
If enough parents opted out of the exam, it could affect the school's Adequate Yearly Progress -- known as AYP -- a federal requirement. It could then affect funding to schools categorized as Title I, which are given federal funding if they have high percentages of low-income students, Olson said.
Seattle Hill is one of the three schools in the Snohomish School District that has met this AYP requirement, Olson said.
This movement is driven by the parents and neither the teachers nor the district have been involved, said Justin Fox-Bailey, president of the Snohomish Education Association, the teachers' union.
He has been involved as a liaison and as a parent. He has also posted on the group's Facebook page.
Opting out of the test was not the group's first idea. Parents contacted their legislators first, Fox-Bailey said.
He believes legislators will start paying attention after seeing schools' scores drop.
"The whole AYP is very scary, but in practice, it doesn't affect schools that are Title I in our area," he said.

Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; adominguez@

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